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Marshall Walter Taylor


His Significance 

The Major Taylor Initiative was established by the Bronzeville Trail Task Force, Inc., based in Chicago, to advocate for the recognition of Marshall W. “Major” Taylor. Major Taylor was an African American professional cyclist. Taylor may be the greatest American sprinter of all time. He became the first African American to become the cycling champion of the world and earned the title of the “world’s fastest man.”


We want Major Taylor to be recognized in the annals of history and the pantheon of great African-Americans who had excelled in a sport. We want him to be mentioned in the same breath as Jackie Robinson, as Michael Jordan, and he lived here in Chicago, died in Chicago.

Who Was "Major" Taylor?


Marshall Walter “Major” Taylor was born in November 1878 in Indianapolis, Indiana, at a time when Reconstruction in America was ending and many minorities faced increased segregation in the U.S. Major Taylor grew up against this social backdrop, where he was not allowed to compete in many races. He also received numerous threats to end his career, even his life.

Despite these intense pressures, Taylor made his professional cycling debut at the famed Six-Day Races at Madison Square Garden. He was only 18 years old and had never raced professionally before, but he finished in the top ten as the only Black cyclist allowed to compete. Reporters all over the Eastern seaboard grew fascinated by his skills, calling him “The Fastest Man in the World.” 

By the start of the 20th century, Taylor competed on an international racing circuit in Europe during the spring and summer months, followed by participation in an national Australian cycling circuit in 1903-04.

At the height of his fame, his name was celebrated in leading publications worldwide: France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Sydney, Australia, and dozens of other world capitals. At his death, he was largely forgotten.

At the dawn of the 20th century, when the United States was grappling with an evolving definition of what it meant to be an “American,” Major Taylor was fighting for sportsmanship and morality, a man who showed that—if given an equal opportunity—truly anything was possible.




  • The Fastest Bicycle Rider in the World by Marshall Walter “Major” Taylor, Wordbound Media, © 1930. 

  • The World's Fastest Man: The Extraordinary Life of Cyclist Major Taylor, America's First Black Sports Hero by Michael Kranish, Scribner, © 2019. 

  • Major Taylor: The Fastest Bicycle Rider in the World by Andrew Ritchie, Cycle Publishing, © 1988. 

  • Major: A Black Athlete, A White Era, And the Fight to be the World’s Fastest Human Being by Todd Balf, Crown Publishers, © 2008. 

  • Major Taylor: The Inspiring Story of a Black Cyclist and the Men who Helped Him Achieve Worldwide Fame by Conrad and Terry Kerber, Skyhorse Publishing, © 2014. 

  • Major Taylor in Australia by Jim Fitzpatrick, StarHill Studio, © 2011. 

  • The Revolt of the Black Athlete by Dr. Harry Edwards, The Free Press and the University of Illinois, © 1970. 

  • The Bicycle: A History by David V. Herlihy, Yale University Press, © 2004.

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